OHSU Performs First Heart Transplant In Nearly 2 Years

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Oregon Health & Science University marked a milestone last month, performing its first heart transplant in nearly two years.

The operation, performed March 27 on a 68-year-old man, was announced on Friday. It marks the relaunch of OHSU’s heart transplant program which imploded in 2018 after its four heart failure cardiologists resigned.

OHSU now has the only heart transplant program in the state though Providence Health & Services is gearing up to launch its own program when the coronavirus crisis is over.

The operation comes at a time when OHSU, too, has hunkered down to focus on the coronavirus pandemic. Like other hospitals, it canceled non-urgent surgeries and procedures. It closed research labs, asked people who could to work at home to do so and increased telehealth services.

The pandemic has slowed transplant programs around the country, with operations postponed over fears that patients would be at greater risk from the virus and indications that transplant patients could suffer more severe viral infections that could then be more easily transmitted to other. The American Society of Transplantation recommended last month the transplant patients avoid visits to physicians' offices and that donors be tested for the virus.

In this case, the heart came from a dead donor, OHSU said. A spokeswoman said the patient is no longer in intensive care. She said the man and the donor tested negative for COVID-19.

A statement indicated the operation went well. 

“This heart transplant patient’s ongoing recovery is an encouraging bright spot during the immense challenges of the coronavirus pandemic,” OHSU President Dr. Danny Jacobs, said in the statement. “We are excited to continue serving our state, region and nation with comprehensive, leading-edge cardiovascular expertise.”

No details were released about the man. He, too, was quoted in the statement.

“I can’t believe how beautifully my new heart is working and how far I’ve come,” the man said. “I want to congratulate the doctors for how good of a job they’ve done. It’s fantastic.” 

The operation was overseen by OHSU’s new lead heart failure specialist, Dr. Johannes Steiner. He was hired, along with two junior cardiologists -- Dr. Nalini Colaco and Dr. Luke Masha -- last year. They replaced the four heart failure specialists who left in 2018. One, Dr. James Mudd, the team leader, was forced out, which led to the exodus of the other three. One of those, Dr. Jill Gelow, is now the medical director of Providence’s program, which is awaiting the necessary approval by the United Network for Organ Sharing. To be approved, programs much have an experienced heart transplant surgeon and medical director and meet a host of other conditions.

OHSU said it is adding a fourth physician this month to lead the team. Dr. Deborah Meyers, starts on Monday and will serve at the heart failure and transplant program director. She served in similar roles at Salinas Valley Medical Center in California and at Baylor University in Houston, Texas. OHSU also has two heart transplant surgeons. The institution did not respond to questions about whether one or both of them performed the operation. In late 2017, following a spate of six deaths after transplantation, two surgeons were required to participate in each heart transplant.

It now has five people on its waiting list, a spokeswoman said.

Providence has two heart transplants surgeons as well and six heart failure cardiologists. When OHSU’s program imploded, hundreds of post-transplant and other heart patients were moved to Providence. Last year, the program got a boost with a $75 million donation from Phil and Penny Knight, who had donated $125 million to OHSU in 2012 for its cardiology program.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.


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